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Autism Bill show worthy of the WWE

By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

My mother was wrong.

For years, she told me that professional wrestling was a waste of time – a brain cell-melter. It was silly, she said, as she recommended that I use my time more wisely. I should be reading or studying or doing something to prepare me for life, she thought.

Well, she got it all wrong.

Turns out, that pro wrestling – or ‘wrasslin’ – prepared me just fine for my career. I couldn’t have picked a better way to get ready for a career covering the Alabama Legislature.

It’s all the same.

The meaningful action takes place behind the curtain, where writers and participants hash out who’s going to win, who’s going to play the heel, who’s the good guy, who’s going to spoil the match and how the bad guys are going to get over on the crowd.

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That’s the Alabama Legislature in a nutshell.

Take Tuesday and the “debate” over the autism therapy bill in the Alabama Senate.

That bill, which would require insurance companies in Alabama to cover ABA Autism Therapy, has been a hotly debated topic since it landed in the House several weeks ago.

It eventually passed the House, 100-0, but faced serious opposition in the Senate.

The bill was supposed to be debated on Wednesday – that was the compromise from last week, when several Senators threatened to “shut down the Senate” if the bill wasn’t signed out of committee.

The good guys had flexed some muscle, pleased the crowd, which was busy booing and throwing empty beer cups at Sen. Trip Pittman. Pittman’s our Ric Flair-like villain: outspoken and brazen with his detest for spending money to help sick children. All he needs is a good “Wooooooo!” from time to time.

But last week, the good guys – Sens. Cam Ward, Tom Whatley and Dick Brewbaker – had withstood Pittman’s dirty tricks and beat him, winning a decisive committee vote that should have sent the bill to the floor for a vote.

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Like any good villain, though, Pittman doesn’t fold that easily. He pulled a final dirty trick and held the bill hostage.

And that’s when the show gets started.

First into the fray is the Business Council of Alabama and Blue Cross/Blue Shield – think: the political equivalent of the NWO at the height of its power – which work to apply pressure on senators to do the wrong thing.

Senate President Del Marsh, the Vince McMahon of Alabama politics, joins in, makes a huge show of talking with Pittman, coming to a compromise that everyone can live with. It avoids a shutdown and Pittman signs the bill out.

Wednesday will be the big day, the fans of the autism bill are told. There will be a one-calendar item that day, plenty of time to pass the bill and take care of business.

The good guys are on a roll. Everything’s looking up.

Then Tuesday comes and there are rumblings of behind-the-scenes shenanigans. The bill’s coming up a day earlier. There’s a substitute bill, too. You can feel the bad starting to build.

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On the Senate floor, just a couple of hours after assurances were given to the autism advocates that the bill would be delayed until Wednesday in order to honor the promise to them … wait, what is that? Is that … Pittman’s music?

And suddenly, like a surprise run-in from the villain, there’s a confusing debate taking place. Amendments are being offered to a bill that is essentially dead, because a substitute is already out there.

Then, the next thing you know, there’s the substitute on the floor. But why? There’s plenty the Senate could be doing on Tuesday, plenty of work left and only three days to do it in.

Nevertheless, the good guys have apparently fallen for the trap and allowed the substitute bill to be offered.

Then come the Pittman amendments: excluding small businesses – wooooooo! – and the biggie, capping coverage at age 18 – WOOOOOOO!

And when the chaos ends and the smoke clears, the NWO, with its power and money, has lost a couple of minor fights but won yet another war.

Just like the script read.

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Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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